Review of the book Infinitesimal by Amir Alexander

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Review of the book Infinitesimal by Amir Alexander

Post by LongtimeAirman on Sun Dec 21, 2014 6:41 pm

Review of the book Infinitesimal by Amir Alexander

I’m almost finished with reading Infinitesimal, but wanted to share a pertinent aspect. The book describes the struggle for and against infinitesimals as an important factor in the development of the modern world. Hobbes, the Jesuits, the Church and royalty tried to counter growing Protestantism and chaos by attempting to limit geometrical logic and reasoning to first principles. To make a long story short, that control was successful in Italy, the source of the Renaissance, subsequently turning that county into a backwater of any further advancement. Elsewhere, and ultimately, acceptance of the infinitesimal resulted in the world we see today.

Tucked neatly into this story is the birth of England’s Royal Society, devoted to understanding and describing natural philosophy. The Royal Society became a powerhouse in the development of science and technology.

It can be said that the creation of the Royal Society took the steam out of England’s long civil war. It enabled men from across the many divides at the time to discuss any of a myriad of new and interesting subjects resulting from their observation of nature and the stars. There were a few rules. First, no amount of logic and reasoning was valid without experimental proof. Subjects lacking an experimental basis were avoided. Politics was not discussed, nor, surprisingly, was mathematics itself. Math was recognized as potentially without limits, able to rationalize any argument, and thus to be avoided, except to explain experimental results.

Members of that august body were limited to aristocracy and the wealthy. The lower classes benefited by improvements to their crafts, but were generally believed to be unable to join in the active discussions of the day.

I see a close parallel with present company. We can participate in active discussions to increase understanding by sharing sources and insights. We mostly avoid subjects or comments that prevent discussion. We are better than the Royal Society in that we allow the lowliest among us (look at me!) to contribute. We are greatly lacking with respect to experimental capability, and overly compensate with our imagined superior reasoning. Hence there is certain dominance of math over physics. The war over the infinitesimal is still with us. Overall, forums such as this are for our greater good.

Thank you all.

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Re: Review of the book Infinitesimal by Amir Alexander

Post by Cr6 on Mon Dec 22, 2014 1:53 am

Very cool LTAM.  I suspected there was a deeper story there when I looked at it over at TB.


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